Sundeep Bhutoria

Welcome to my blog. Do share your views and thoughts with me. Request visitors to keep their comments brief and to the point. I shall respond to you to the extent possible.
Thank you.
ess bee

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Warming up to Kolkata's winter events

With Arindam Sil
December 18, 2015: I arrived in Kolkata from Bangalore on Tuesday December 15 night. For the last couple of days I have been catching up with office work that had piled up during my absence.
With Mimi
Last night I went to the premiere of my friend Arindam Sil's filmHar Har Byomkesh”. I did not see the movie but was there to just meet everybody and greet Arindam as I have not attended any Tollywood events for a while now. 
From the premiere I went to the residence of Irina K Bashkirova, Consul General of The Russian Federation, to attend a dinner and cocktails on the occasion of the 16th Russia-India Summit. It was an all diplomats gathering.
With Koel Mullick
From there I went to ITC Sonar for the Winter Barbecue thanks to the General Manager Atul Bhalla.
At the ITC Sonar
It is good I attended these social events and get to meet quite a number of those who move in Kolkata’s social circles.
With Ranjit Mullick
Again I shall be travelling tomorrow. To night I am hosting a dinner at the Taj Bengal for Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, high priestess of the Wiccan Brigade, to mark the release of her book Beloved Witch Returns’ and published by Life Positive Books.
ess bee

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Late night party at Gardenia

December 10 2015: Yesterday night I hosted a get together at the ITC Gardenia. Earlier, when I used to live in Chennai sometime around 1999 to 2001, I used to visit Bangalore frequently. Again, Bangalore was also my weekend destination when I lived in Coimbatore in 1995-96.
I know quite a few people in Bangalore and hosting a small get-together was in my mind. In fact, it was due for quite sometime now.
I used the opportunity of the wedding of my cousin's daughter to host a get together. I decided to do it differently from the regular cocktail dinners. So I hosted a desserts and coffee get together after 10 pm at the terrace of ITC Gardenia.
Some of my friends were little apprehensive about this theme and I was also in two minds but finally decided to go for it. The get together turned out to be an excellent affair and everybody liked this concept. Much credit goes to the ITC Gardenia team who did a fantastic job in creating varieties of liquor desserts with alcohol and coffee.
In fact the ITC Hotel's renowned pastry chef Arvind is based out of Gardenia only. My old friend Virendra Razdan, who is the general manager of Gardenia, informed me that ITC Hotels would soon come up with chocolate shops starting from next March at its Gardenia property.
The live dessert counter with liquor had quite a spread with fancy alluring names like Ice cream Sunday Pistachio Black; Rose Petal, sesame, coriander and strawberry; Spiced molten chocolate kullad; Grey goose flamed dessert kebabs; Flamed crepes; Dessert and liquer shots; Vintage desserts; Dessert-in-jars; One bite wonders and so on.
I was in Grand Hyatt Mumbai on the night of December 7. I shall never recommend this hotel to anyone for stay. Though I am a diamond member of Hyatt, which is the highest tier of membership for guests, the front office could not find my reservation and they had no knowledge of my membership either.
This hotel has many other flaws which is rather surprising and glaring especially after experiencing the Grand Hyatt's standards of service in Bangkok and Singapore.
I shall be in Bangalore for a few more days for the wedding.
ess bee

Sunday, December 6, 2015

At the Bangalore Lit Fest

At the Bangalore Lit Fest with Madhurantakam Narendra, Kulpreet Yadav, Pramita Satpathy and  Diwakar S
December 6, 2015: I landed in Bangalore on December 2 night. The weather here is nice and welcoming. No wonder when it comes to the weather, many people draw parallels between Bengaluru and California while others choose to call it the “California of India”.
This time I checked in at the Taj Westend instead of ITC Gardenia since my main reason to be in Bangalore was to attend a wedding scheduled at this Taj property. Indian weddings continue to get bigger and fatter and there seems to be no limits to this.
Apart from the wedding, this trip to Bangalore was also to attend the Bangalore Literature Festival which ran into some rough weather with the founder director of the Festival, Vikram Sampath, quitting over his tweet on authors returning awards.
Book signing at the Lit Fest
I came to know about the whole thing on reaching Bangalore. In fact, in the whole list of authors and speakers I found only Yatindra Mishra from the world of Hindi literature as many of them backed out of the Fest due to the tweet controversy.
I was the moderator of the session "The Short and Short of It: Writing Short Stories”. There were four speakers in my panel - Kulpreet Yadav, Paramita Satpathy, Madhurantakam Narendra and Diwakar S.
I was amazed to hear when Mr Diwakar mentioned about the world's shortest short story – “The Dinosaur” - which is only one line long and written by Guatemalan writer Augusto Monterroso. It just reads “When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there.” This enigmatic short story, the shortest one ever written, has inspired many a doctoral thesis.
A renowned French author had commented that it was the best short story he had ever heard. According to Mr Diwakar, this one-line is a story bacause it spurs the readers to think and wonder.
S Diwakar has published over 30 books of short fiction, poetry, essays, translations and literary criticism. As a journalist he has served as reporter, assistant editor and editor in such newspapers and journals like Samyukta Karnataka, Mallige, Sudha, Prajavani and The Times of India. He was was a Karnataka specialist at the American Consulate in Chennai for nearly two decades.
At the sidelines of every literary sessions at the Bangalore Literature Festival was the issue of tolerance vs intolerance.
ess bee

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Same frame moment with BigB

With Amitabh Bachchan and Vidya Balan at St Paul's Cathedral Kolkata
December 1, 2015: After returning from my North America trip I was jet lagged with a whole lot of piled up desk work to clear. Today there was another of the Receipe Rendezvous series with the very versatile celebrity chef Sabita Radhakrishna at The Conclave.
Sabita has traversed many professions from being a freelance writer, food columnist to a broadcaster associated with Doordarshan and All India Radio besides being a scriptwriter and programme hostess for over twenty years. She is well experienced with textiles and is an active member of the Crafts Council of India. Her book Annapurni is about authentic Tamil cuisine.
I, however, had to give the Recipe Rendezvous event a miss.
I went to see the shooting of the film Te3n at the St Paul's Cathedral
Sujoy Ghosh, producer of the film, called up in the morning for some work and I came to know that BigB, Vidya Balan, Nawazuddin Siddhiqui and others were shooting at the Cathedral which is only few stretches away from my house.
I wasn't keeping track of things happening in the Kolkata circuit due to my foreign trips. This wasn't the first time that I witnessed the shooting of Amitabh Bachchan – my favourite actor. Earlier, while shooting for Piku in Kolkata, I had met him and thanks to Shoojit Sarkar, I had watched the shooting quite a few times.
I also met Vidya Balan during the shooting and on a lighter note Sujoy also clicked my picture with Amitabh and Vidya Balan.
Since the past few years the frequency of my travels has been on the rise as a result I am having to stay away from Kolkata more often. It seems that now I have to actually plan in advance my stay in Kolkata.
Tomorrow again I shall leave for Bangalore as I have committed myself to attend the Bangalore Literature Festival and meet up with some close friends and attend family functions. My Bangalore trip will be for a fortnight and includes an overnight trip to Mumbai to attend another family function.
ess bee

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Unique book on 70 years of India and UN

November 14, 2015 (NYC): Yesterday was Friday. I had a few meetings in WFUNA office and then had a meeting with the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Mr Asoke Mukerji.
In the late afternoon, I had a meeting with the Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Mr Bhagwant Bishnoi. Asoke Mukerji who will be in his post until January 2016 presented me a book India and The United Nations - A Photo Journey - 1945 -2015.
The book is a photographic documentation of how India and the United Nations have influenced each other in the last 70 years. It captures some of the vital moments that have shaped the modern history. The photographic reproduction of the original manuscript of the Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations, June 26, 1945, features the three amendments proposed by India; India signing the United Nations Charter at the San Francisco Conference in 1945 by Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, the only woman to head a delegation to the First United Nations General Assembly session in 1946. 
It features those persons who played an important part like Sir V T Krishnamachari, Sir Ramaswami Mudaliar in the early days to modern day Indian icons like Sachin Tendulkar. Has historic moment of Indian Independence in 1947 and the new Indian flag being hoisted. It also records Hansa Mehta's contribution to the UN Commission on Human Rights when she changed the phrase "all men are created equal" to "all human beings are created equal".
The change of language denoted the consciousness of gender bias as early as 1949. The photo of Vijaylakshmi Pandit as the First Woman President of UN General Assembly, 1953; opening of South Asia's first penicillin plant in India in 1956; India signing the Convention on Political Rights of Women in 1947; A B Vajpayee addressing General Assembly in Hindi for the first time in 1977 to the General Assembly adopting resolution on International Day of Yoga, 2014, leading to the celebration of 1st International Day of Yoga on 21st June 2015.
The book has immense archival value and chronological records of the milestones in history of India vis-a -vis United Nations. This is a great book which I shall put in my collection of favourites.
On Friday evening I went to a private residence for dinner. Today, I will go to the United Nations again to attend the closing ceremony of WIMUN 2015.
ess bee

Friday, November 13, 2015

At the City College in New York; Le Taj in Montreal

At the City University in New York
November 13, 2015 (NYC): New York is getting little colder. Yesterday I went to the City College of New York City University (CUNY) to deliver a presentation on tigers. Dr Susham Bedi, who is in charge of the Hindi language program at the College invited me after hearing about my presentation on tigers at the New York University.
It was my first visit to the City College and it was good to meet Dr Susham Bedi, herself is an author. From City College, I went straight to the airport and took a flight to Montreal.
In front of Hotel Hyatt in Montreal
In Montreal, I checked into Hotel Hyatt which is located in the main down town. I never thought that I'd check into a hotel in Montreal where I spent weeks and months twice a year at my Aunt's beautiful house near to the lake. I have spent my life's most favourite times in Montreal.
On Thursday (Nov 12) morning I had a personal appointment and from there I went to the airport. The Wednesday dinner and Thursday lunch I had at Le Taj Restaurant of Montreal which is actually not famous for Indian food in Montreal but is one of the finest Indian restaurants in North America.
Le Taj Restaurant in Montreal
Le Taj is highly praised by local food-critic and is located in downtown Montreal for over three decades. Staffed by a caring people especially trained to treat every guest like a celebrity. The hotel is decorated with complex figures embedded in simple modern lines.
Le Taj has a very visible tandoor (clay oven) around which you can see the chef prepare delights such as lamb chops, kebabs, garlic shrimps, chicken tikka and, of course, nan bread. They also offer an inexpensive buffet at lunch, a veritable symphony of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The food is very popular and it is always busy.
At the hotel Le Taj Montreal I met the owner Vinod Kapoor who had left his native village in Mussoorie and came here in 1985. He told me that they were celebrating 30 years of the hotel and had hung up a memorabilia of pictures of celebrities and important events of the past three decades that happened in Le Taj in downtown Montreal.
At Le Taj, the rear section of the restaurant adorns a mud-wall which was part of the India Pavilion at Expo 67 Montreal. At Le Taj one has a feeling of dining in a museum-like place with the display of Indian and Tibetan arts and crafts. Three huge intricately fashioned panels that were part of the Indian pavilion at Expo 67 are at the entrance. There is a huge mural which Kapoor saved from the India Pavilion 67. The decor is elegant and spare with intricate Hindu wood and plaster carvings adorning the high terracotta-coloured walls. The guests are impressed by the ambiance which is Indian without being ethnic.
While reaching the airport for my flight to New York, I realized that the flight was late because of the weather, which is very common in this part of the world due to extreme weather conditions.
One more thing I noticed was that the Sky Checkers in these North American flights are getting more and more popular. Sky Checkers are baggage personnel who collect your hand baggage at the entrance of the aircraft and deliver it to you at your destination at the exit of the aircraft. It saves a lot hassles of checking in and waiting to collect the baggage. 
On the other hand, the airline and passengers are at ease to have less baggage in the craft cabins especially when the small airplanes fly in these sectors. I reached two hours late than the scheduled arrival time in New York.
My family friend, Ashish Khanna was at the airport to receive me as I had promised him for a dinner evening at his residence. It was indeed nice of him to not only have waited for me but also to take me to his residence and drop me all the way back to my Manhattan hotel. Such courtesies are rare in this part of the world because of the extremely busy schedule people have. Ashish's wife, Parul, cooked some amazing food and the dinner evening lasted until midnight.
ess bee

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

At the UN panel discussion

November 10, 2015 (NYC): Today afternoon I attended the lunch hosted by the Ambassador Hahn Choong-Hee, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations at the United Nations Delegate Lounge.
The Delegate Lounge lunch at United Nations has always been very popular though the security protocols one has to pass through often prompt people to opt in for some other venue.
They served the international cuisine buffet and the excellent view from the Delegate Lounge ensures that there is always a full house. This lunch was hosted to mark the 5th Anniversary of `United Nations Academic Impact' (UNAI)
UNAI Panel Discussion on Global Citizenship & Sustainable Development in progress; From Left Mr Peter Rajsingh, Mr Young Sil Kim, Mr Ramu Damodaran and Ms Chandrika Bahadur
After lunch, I participated in the panel discussion on “Global Citizenship & Sustainable Development”. It was nice of Mr Ramu Damodaran to invite me to such a prestigious platform.
In my lecture, I took a very unconventional and an ancient alternative approach towards the topic of sustainable development and global citizenship drawing from the rich Vedic heritage of India. It delved deeply and briefly into concepts that are embedded in our thousands of years of Indian tradition of promoting sustainable development through dharma, karma, ahimsa, sanyas and so on.
After the panel discussion, the weather suddenly changed and it was drizzling. Ramu invited me for dinner at Hemant Mathur’s new venture Dosai and I was quite happy to eat at the Dosai, especially their South Indian Kotthu Paratha was a real treat. Tomorrow I shall be leaving for Montreal.
ess bee

Monday, November 9, 2015

Nothing comes free in NYC

December 9, 2015: I arrived in New York on Sunday December 8. This time I checked in to stay at the Bridges hotel instead of One UN New York - Millennium Hotels & Resorts.
The standard of service at the Millennium Hotel is going down day by day and apart from its location, there's hardly anything good. My flight landed early morning and the room was not ready due to cent per cent occupancy at Bridges. I walked for some time and took a taxi to an Indian food area in Lexington and after having a round and some food I came back to the hotel.
In the evening I had an appointment with Rajeev Mehta - a doctor whose family owns the Staybridges Hotel - to watch at the Broadway. We decide to go for Lion King. I heard a lot about this Broadway production and that it was a favourite of the children. I had missed it twice in London as something had come up at the last minute. The make up and attire of cast in this production is worth a watch.
The next day (Dec 9) I went to the New York University to deliver a presentation-cum-lecture on the effect of literature on Bollywood. Many of the students of South Asian Department were there, mainly Hindi and Urdu speaking. After delivering a presentation on tiger I got a request from the New York University again on this particular topic.
I was glad that I was able to do justice with my presentation as the faculty was quite happy with the content. For few students, some of the Hindi words that I had used were difficult to understand.
However, overall it was good for all of them, including the faculty. It was a new piece of information for them to know that there were four versions of the film Devdas and not just two. They thought that Dilip Kumar and SRK had acted in the old and new versions. In fact, there was a very old silent version of the movie and a popular one in which Kundan Lal Sehgal had played the character of Devdas from Sarat Chandra Chattopadhya's novel of same name.
Today (Dec 9), I had a strange experience. A colleague of mine, staying at the posh Grand Hyatt at the Grand Central Station, carried a box for me from Kolkata. She told the conceierge that she wanted to leave the box with them so that I could pick it up in a couple of hours. The concierge suggested to her to leave the box at another department of the Hotel called `Mail Box' which handled such issues.
USD 10 bill
She left that box for me which I later picked up. But much to my surprise, the Mail Box department charged her USD 10 just to keep that box even though she was staying in the same property for a week.
This is quite bizarre and I have never ever experienced or heard of such a thing before. When I inquired about this from the person at the counter in that small room called Mail Box department, I was told that it was a hotel policy.
Further inquiries revealed that few hotels in the world have started this Mail Box business and guests can no longer leave an envelope with the Bell Desk or the concierge. Instead, they have to shell out for the Mail Box service.
I gather that many complaints have been filed online with travel sites on this system. But well that's New York. Nothing comes free here.
ess bee

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hashim Abdul Halim – may his soul rest in peace

With Hashim Abdul Halim
November 5, 2015: I was scheduled to leave for Delhi on Monday (Nov 2) for an evening to attend the UN reception to commemorate United Nations Day at the UN Lawns, New Delhi, at 6:30 pm. The UN Day is hosted by the United Nations in India.
However, in the morning about 10:15 am I received a text about the demise of Mr Hashim Abdul Halim the former speaker of the West Bengal Assembly who had also served as the Chairman of the Commonwealth Parlimentary Association.
My relation with him goes back to my childhood. A family friend who was a father figure to me. He introduced me not only to WFUNA but also to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and many other international bodies.
Handing over a small bust of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore to Mr Halim
It was because of him that I had easy access to the Assembly. This helped me to gain knowledge of the democratic as well as parliamentary system.
Mr Halim was a disciplinarian with many sterling qualities and a repository of information and knowledge. I really learnt a lot from him. I pray his soul rests in peace.
His passing away is a personal loss to me. On November 3 I went to the Muslim burial ground to attend his last rites.
Yesterday and today again I will stay put in my office with piles of work. I had thought of making a trip to Jaipur this week but things do not always turn out to be as one desires.
I shall leave for my overseas trip on Saturday. I have a minute-to-minute itinerary worked out for the weeks ahead and am bracing up for an extremely hectic schedule.
ess bee

Monday, November 2, 2015

Halloween party and other events

November 2, 2015: After the WFUNA meeting in Bangkok, the whole of last week was spent working in the office preparing for my yet another round of overseas travel coming weekend to North America. The weekend was quite hectic and I had to do many things.
On Saturday, October 31, I was not able to attend the Ladies Study Group Charitable Trust Annual Award Ceremony at the Taj Bengal nor was I able to meet my friend K Mohanchandran who was in town from Hyderabad on Friday evening.
With Britta, Shraddha and Dadul at the Halloween party in Hyatt
I, however, managed to go to the Halloween Party at Hyatt Regency and honestly it was the best theme party I have attended in Kolkata. Guests turned up spooky guises – witches, vampires and zombies - stirred up the Halloween spirit. The Halloween carved pumpkins added to it.
The origins of Halloween or `hallowed' or `holy' evening can be traced to the ancient Celtic festival of harvests. Halloween is celebrated in the evening before the Christian feast of All Saint’s Day on November 1.
Hyatt made elaborate arrangements with even the menu also had a spooky aura. Britta Leicke Milde, Hyatt General Manager, was all dressed up like a witch for the party that went on till the wee hours.
With Cmde Ravi Ahluwalia and Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi
I also dropped in to attend the Naval Band Concert at the Lascar Memorial where I met the Chief Guest, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, AVSM, VSM, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command and Vice Admiral Satish Soni PVSM, AVSM, NM, The Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Naval Command.
Thanks to Cmde Ravi Ahluwalia, Naval Officer-in-charge (West Bengal), for inviting me.
On November 1, I was not able to attend the lunch hosted by Kumudini and Kamal Parekh on forthcoming engagement of Nilangi and Utsav Parekh’s son Saharsh at the Vedic Village. I, however, attended the Cocktails & Dinner of Utsav Parekh at Pala, ITC Sonar, that was quite a gala event and I was quite impressed with the flower d├ęcor done by Baisakhi.
I have a very busy week ahead.
Today afternoon I shall fly to Delhi to attend a reception to commemorate United Nations Day at the UN Lawns, New Delhi, hosted by United Nations in India.
ess bee